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May 14, 2015




Please feel free to contact me with any concerns or opinions you might have.

Office Phone: (608) 266-7505
Toll-free Phone: (800) 361-5487



Mailing Address:

State Capitol
P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707




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Supporting our neighbors and being involved in our community is of the utmost importance. Some community events that might be of interest to you and your family are listed below. 

The Milwaukee Ballet Presents: Cinderella
Date: May 14 through May 17
Location: Milwaukee
Description: The classic journey from servant to princess takes on added luster through the creative lens of Michael Pink. Delight in fairy godmothers, glass slippers and a pumpkin carriage that all conspire to deliver Cinderella to an unforgettable world of fantasy, love and beauty. All of this is punctuated by dancers from the Milwaukee Ballet School and Sergei Prokofiev's magical score performed by the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra.
For more information call 414-273-7206

Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

929 N. Water St.
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Sign up for the GO Pass at senior and community centers 

Date: Various dates throughout May and Jun

Description: The Milwaukee County Transit System's (MCTS) free transit pass, known as the GO Pass, is available for eligible seniors or persons with disabilities. The pass allows all Milwaukee County residents 65 and older unlimited free rides on MCTS buses. The free pass will also be available for residents with disabilities who meet certain requirements.


MCTS will be traveling to senior and community centers to help process GO Pass applications. CLICK HERE for a list of locations, dates, and times.


Mysteries Unraveled Overnight at Milwaukee Public Museum 

Date: Friday, May 15, from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Saturday, May 16

Location: Milwaukee

Description: Museums are full mysteries waiting to be solved. Every year experts unravel new discoveries about ancient cultures, creatures, and the earth itself. During MPM's Mysteries Unraveled Overnight, you'll help  explore mysteries MPM thinks they've solved, those they working on, and some that continue to baffle them. All the fields of natural science and human history come together at the museum, and you're invited experience them all!


Milwaukee Public Museum (MAP)

800 W. Wells Street, Milwaukee WI 53233



Walk to Cure Arthritis

Date: Saturday, May 16 from 9 a.m. to noon

Location: Milwaukee

Description: There is no registration fee for the Walk to Cure Arthritis. All are encouraged to participate to help the Arthritis Foundation raise both awareness and funds for the organization. Anyone who raises $100+ will receive a commemorative Walk to Cure Arthritis t-shirt!


CLICK HERE for more information.

Lake Park


3233 E. Kenwood Blvd. Milwaukee WI 53211


Historic Milwaukee, Inc. Presents: Spaces & Traces

Date: Saturday, May 16 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Location: Milwaukee

Description: Explore one of Milwaukee's most vibrant areas: the Layton Boulevard neighborhoods. Experience great architecture including Frank Lloyd Wright and Alexander Eschweiler. Take a guided tour of the interior of five private homes, the beauty of the School Sisters of St. Francis St. Joseph Center Chapel and the Frank Lloyd Wright American System-Built homes. Other tour locations include both interior or exterior tours of apartments, a church, a fire station and commercial properties. Travel from room to room and learn about the fascinating history and architectural significance of these neighborhood gems.


For more information and to purchase tickets, CLICK HERE.



Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,


Last week, the Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform heard from the public and voted on a bill to repeal Wisconsin's prevailing wage standard. Thankfully, one Republican on the committee listened to the hours of testimony from Wisconsin workers and joined Senator Wirch and I in voting against this destructive bill.


Also last week, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) released revenue projections for the next two years. It was unfortunate to hear from the LFB that they anticipate a continued anemic economy.


Additionally, a Republican proposal was unveiled last week that seeks to further dismantle our Milwaukee Public School system. While many of the details of the proposal were left out, a first glance at it reveal many concerns. 


Continue reading for details on the aforementioned, and more, such as a information on the bird flu, a proposal to decriminalize marijuana, and money-saving tips in honor of Building Safety Month.


Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7



Effort to Lower Wages

On Tuesday, May 5, the Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform held a public hearing on Senate Bill 49 with the Republican chairman intent on repealing Wisconsin's prevailing wage law, which has protected Wisconsin workers for 80 years. There were hours of public testimony from business leaders, local contractors, and experts on the construction industry. During the course of the hearing, it became crystal clear Wisconsin workers and businesses do not support dismantling another protection for Wisconsin's middle class, which has been critical in creating a top-notch construction industry in our state since the 1930s. This system is effective in delivering quality work, by a fairly-compensated, well-trained Wisconsin workforce, at a price that is mindful of our shared, public investments.

Bottom Line: Prevailing Wage Repeal will not Save Money

The facts and evidence make clear that repealing this worker protection won't save any money. Prevailing wage laws ensure we have well-trained, skilled workers, who give the taxpayers the best deal by doing high-quality work, efficiently. In fact, under the prevailing wage law, Wisconsin is the third most productive in the country and the best in the Midwest in terms of our workers getting things done right and on time. Pulling prevailing wage out by the roots is morally and economically the wrong direction for Wisconsin.

Click here to see the study that ranked Wisconsin workers best in the Midwest.

While proponents of Senate Bill 49 claim savings to the state as a reason to rid Wisconsin of good jobs and decent pay, these claims are disingenuous. In looking for these savings, the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) even stated "the evidence on prevailing wage effects generally range from relatively small effects to no statistically significant effects." The LFB did a study of studies and took into consideration several of the frequently referenced studies in completing their analysis.

To see the LFB memo, click here.

Additionally, at the hearing, a respected researcher -- Dr. Peter Philips -- who has been studying the construction industry for almost 25 years, confirmed repealing prevailing wage would not only fail at saving taxpayers' money -- but would also hurt our entire construction industry. He went on to ask committee members if we want Wisconsin to be a high-wage, high-skill state or a low-wage, low-skill state. I think the majority of Wisconsinites recognize that making a good wage in these tough jobs is crucial to ensuring we have quality products that are completed by skilled Wisconsin workers, rather than being under-cut by out-of-state workers who will produce a less quality product. This is a fundamental question on the role of state leaders and what we should be working toward in our state.

For more on Dr. Philips' findings, click here.

Wisconsinites Struggle in Walker and GOP Anemic Economy

The facts from other states show repealing prevailing wage will drive down wages, promote the outsourcing of workers, lower productivity levels, decrease workplace safety, and restrict access to health care. It will ultimately prevent people from being part of the middle class and reaching the American Dream -- an already increasingly rare commodity in our state. Hardworking Wisconsinites are struggling under the failed policies of the governor and his Republican allies in the Legislature. In fact, it was recently unveiled that Wisconsin has the fastest shrinking middle class of all 50 states. Instead of facing this reality, Republicans in power pushed repealing a law that helps ensure jobs go to local workers whose families shop at local businesses, thus strengthening local communities.

Click here to read a blog post about Wisconsin's shrinking middle class.

Senate Bill 49 Fails to Pass Committee

The committee that took up the prevailing wage repeal bill was the Labor and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Senator Steve Nass, who was also one of the bill's authors. There are two Democrats --  Senator Bob Wirch and me -- and three Republicans who that sit on the committee. Before the public hearing on Senate Bill 49, one of the Republican senators voiced his opposition to repealing the decades old law.

Then, on Thursday, May 7, the committee held an executive session to vote on Senate Bill 49 as well as an alternative to the bill -- introduced as a substitute amendment. The substitute amendment, put forth by Senator Nass, would have repealed the prevailing wage law for local government projects, but kept a version of the law in place for state projects. Under the alternative plan, the threshold for applying the prevailing wage law on state projects would rise from $48,000 to $1 million for single-trade jobs and from $100,000 to $5 million for multiple-trade jobs.

At the executive session, Senator Wirch and I voiced our opposition to both plans, as they would only further the alarming income inequality Wisconsin is facing. When the substitute amendment came up for a vote, it failed on a 3-to-2 vote, with one Republican joining Democrats in opposition. The original version of the bill failed as well. Despite not getting an affirmative vote in committee, the GOP legislative leaders have moved it to the Committee on Senate Organization, which means it could still be scheduled for a vote by the full Senate.

Even if the Legislature does not take up this bill, changes to Wisconsin's prevailing wage could still end up being slipped into the state budget, which is expected to pass sometime in June. Should this proposal, that will hurt Wisconsin workers, families, and local communities, come to the Senate floor in any way, I will continue to side with workers. We have seen a pattern by this Republican-run government to demonize middle class families so we must remain vigilant for any future attacks on the middle class.


No New State Revenue to Fill $2.2 Billion Budget Hole

Last week, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) released their revenue projections for the upcoming biennium. Much to the state's disappointment, the LFB determined there will be no new revenue growth to salvage Walker's sinking economy.

This blow comes despite a growing economy nationally and significant revenue growth in neighboring Midwestern states like Minnesota, which is expecting a $2 billion surplus. It's clear Wisconsin continues to fall further behind because of failing GOP policies. Neighboring states like Minnesota are flush with cash and are reaping the benefits because they have invested in their public schools, raised wages for families, and expanded access to affordable health care. Republicans in Wisconsin, on the other hand, have been busy selling out our state to special interests and campaign donors and have consequently created a self-inflicted $2.2 billion projected deficit.

Instead of focusing on Wisconsin's traditional shared values over the past five years, the Republicans in power have been consumed with historic slashes to education investments and denying our neighbors access to basic health services and family-supporting jobs, while at the same time widening tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporations.

As discussed in a previous Larson Report, if our state were to refocus our priorities and use our state's shared investments responsibly, we could prevent the draconian cuts to K-12 education, the University System, and save other vital programs like IRIS, BadgerCare, Family Care, and SeniorCare.

In order to achieve this, all we need to do is accept the Medicaid expansion funding, limit special interest and corporate tax giveaways to the current levels, and use the portion of the school levy tax credit -- that goes to corporations and people who don't live in Wisconsin -- to instead reinvest in a better long-term future for Wisconsinites.

As many can see, Wisconsin's middle class has shrunk more than any other state in the nation. This is simply unacceptable. It is my hope that Republicans will see the light and reach across the aisle to work with Democrats on policies that will help Wisconsin families. It is time to end the regressive era in Wisconsin politics and get the state moving forward again.

For more on the savings that could be achieved through the aforementioned avenues, click here.


Dismantling and Privatizing Public Education

Late last week, two suburban Milwaukee Republican legislators put forth a memo outlining legislation that would continue the Republican pattern to privatize and dismantle public education in the city of Milwaukee.

Here are the main tenants of their proposal:

  • The new school district would be run by an unelected bureaucrat for an at-will term and would be appointed by the Milwaukee county executive
  • The commissioner would operate independently from the democratically elected public school board
  • The commissioner would receive great power but would be free of most state and local regulations

What is upsetting to citizens is this plan would do nothing to address the problems of Milwaukee's lowest performing schools. When looking at the facts, by far the lowest performing schools in Milwaukee are the very voucher schools that could potentially be able  to take over these MPS schools under this proposal. The Darling/Kooyenga plan might have been an interesting idea in 1989 when the state first introduced vouchers, but it's 2015 and our city has had 25 years of this failed private voucher school experiment and spent over 1 billion in taxpayer dollars.. It simply doesn't work and we all know it.

This is more of the same tried-and-tired legislation. Their proposed solution to the problems facing MPS is to replicate more of the causes that helped create the problems in the first place. MPS has made significant strides in student achievement through an initiative called Commitment Schools. We are seeing positive growth in the very schools the Republicans are targeting to remove from the district. Positive change is occurring, it should be promoted and encouraged, not undermined. Instead of recognizing the gains made by MPS Superintendent Driver in her less than a year on the job, Republicans want to pursue an agenda and model that has been tried and proven to be a failure.

Looking at Similar Initiatives Around the Country

We can look to other states across the nation, such as Michigan, Tennessee, and Louisiana and see the results of so-called "recovery districts." Recently in Michigan, a  similar attempt to "turnaround" the Detroit Public Schools may leave taxpayers on the hook for over $50 million a year, out of the state general school fund to cover debt, which affects the Michigan's overall school investment capacity. If the Wisconsin proposal includes the state taking on long-term financial liabilities from the Milwaukee Public Schools, it could result in long-term financial consequences for all Wisconsinites, adversely affecting our schoolchildren.

In Memphis, Tennessee, where a similar state-run effort is underway, there are struggles to locate committed school operators. In New Orleans, Louisiana, the nation's oldest "turnaround" school district, results have been miserable. They ended up lowering the quality of education, perform worse than what's left of their traditional public schools, and in the end will cost the state millions of dollars to eventually fix the mess they created, all at the expense of their childrens' education.

Public in the Dark Over Proposal Details

Many important details of this proposal are still a mystery and have not been provided to the public, to the Legislature, or even to the county executive who is supposed to be in charge of this new entity. The outline of the plan that has been made public include no substantial details on how it will be funded, what performance metrics will be used to measure the success of both the schools and students, what types of services will be provided to students, or even what basic qualifications would be required in order to be an educator in the schools. These are important details that we deserve to have before we make decisions that impact our children's education, future, and ultimately the success of our communities.

Given the proposal's massive scope and impact it will have on the city of Milwaukee, any proposal that make such sweeping changes to our children's education deserves a serious and honest public debate. In the days and weeks ahead, we welcome the opportunity to share, in detail, our concerns with our Republican colleagues. It is our hope they will take a step back, be transparent about their intentions, and engage with members of the community, MPS, members of the Legislature, and most importantly the parents and children that will be directly hurt by their decisions.

Despite the best intentions of the county executive to make a bad situation less bad, this plan is another step to dismantle and privatize public education in Milwaukee. Like the expansion of statewide vouchers, eventually this model will be spread to the rest of the state and should make everyone who cares about our neighborhood schools and our children deeply concerned. This is not just wrong for Milwaukee, this is wrong for Wisconsin.

Making schools whole? What's really happening

In addition to a complete overhaul of MPS, we've heard from a lot of Republicans over the past week that their top priority in the state budget is fixing the governor's proposal to further cut $127 million from our public schools in the next budget. They have also claimed that stopping the most-recent proposed cut would somehow make education "whole."

To be clear, continuing to underfund schools after historic cuts is hardly making our schools whole.

According to the conservative Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, per pupil school funding in Wisconsin remains less today than in 2010, despite the rising costs to school districts for transportation, technology services, and utilities. Without significant additional investments to make up for inflation and lost revenue, local schools will be forced to continue this current downward spiral of cutting staff, reducing education services, and holding local referendums just to keep the lights on.

Notably, former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson actually established the principle that -- at the very least -- we must fund schools to match the rate of inflation. This principle continued until the recession of 2007. However, while former Governor Doyle -- like governors across the country -- had to make some tough choices in budgets between 2007 and 2010, he still invested in education because it is a part of our state's shared values, and directly influences economic security and prosperity. Governor Walker has since abandoned these values.

So what would it take to start us down the path of actually making education whole?

Here are a some basic standards the state should adopt:

  • Increase per pupil funding by at least the rate of inflation so schools can keep up with the rising costs for basic needs like books, school lunch, supplies, and services they provide our kids.
  • Increase the reimbursement rate for special education. Over the past decade, the state has been cutting back it's share of the cost of educating kids with special needs. That means more of the burden falls on local taxpayers and can lead to decreased services for some of our most vulnerable children.
  • Invest in initiatives proven to increase student achievement, such as SAGE and the Milwaukee Mathematics Partnership. Both programs are proven to reduce class sizes and increase student achievement in math, reading, and science. Unfortunately, these programs have been cut drastically or completely eliminated in recent budgets
  • Ensure all students are equally invested in, around the state. There are some school districts receive zero dollars in per pupil aid from the state and others that receive upwards of $15,000 per pupil. This is an unfair formula that needs to change so we can begin valuing all of our kids equally.

These are things that would start to put the state on the right path, and are basic standards that school districts are asking for, but Republicans have refused to do.

And if they were really serious about providing our kids with quality education, they would need to stop the expansion of vouchers and independent charter schools that takes money out of our traditional public schools.

We have now seen three Republican budgets under Governor Walker. In each budget, Republicans have continually cut back on their investment in the future success of our children. Polls show the public agrees that education needs to be a true priority for Wisconsin. Our local public schools deserve better than to have their funding cut or frozen. It's time our state get serious about making education "whole" and commit to make real investment in our schools and the future of our children.


Ask Chris

I often have neighbors contact me looking for my perspective on various local and state issues. I very much appreciate our neighbors' questions and want to dedicate a portion of my newsletter to common questions that I hear to maintain an open dialogue. Please continue reading for this week's question.

Q: I saw the news article about the snowy owl that died from the avian flu. What is being done about this disease and should I be worried?

A: Thank you for the question and concern. The first case of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5, commonly called Avian flu or H5N8, was detected in the United States on December 19, 2014. In the last 5 months, it has rapidly spread across the United States, primarily along the migratory pathways of wild birds.

This lethal bird virus originated in Asia and is now found across the United States. Officials from the Center for Disease Control have indicated that there have been no cases of this virus affecting humans here or internationally, so the threat to human health is considered low. While not a direct threat to humans, it does pose a serious threat to farm and wild bird populations.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been working with state agencies to test birds; track outbreaks of the virus; and minimize the spread of the virus to our commercial egg, chicken, and turkey farms. In just 5 months the virus has led to the loss of over 30,000,000 farm-raised chickens and turkeys nationally.

For updates on H5N8, visit the USDA website by clicking here.

Wisconsin has not been immune to the spread of this virus. The recent discovery of the snowy owl's infection and death confirm that the avian flu is affecting both agricultural and wild birds in Wisconsin. Here in the Badger state, the Wisconsin National Guard has worked with Emergency Management and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to depopulate commercial poultry flocks that have become infected. To date, 1,765,008 chickens and turkeys have died as a result of H5N8 in four Wisconsin counties at 10 different farms.

As we grapple with this new disease, poultry farmers -- from large commercial operations to our neighborhood backyard coups -- need to review their "biosecurity" practices. Biosecurity practices, such as monitoring the health of their birds for any signs of illness, quarantining new birds, washing hands, and prohibiting interaction between captive and wild birds, are practical techniques to help stop the spread of disease.

If you have questions about biosecurity practices, click here to learn more. 

Strong efforts to restrict the spread of H5N8 is important because of the potential death of wild birds, agricultural loss and costs, and because viruses can be genetically volatile. As expected, the USDA has already identified two new variants of the avian flu, as it has genetically blended with existing avian flu viruses in our country.

I appreciate the question and share your concerns. I will keep monitoring our response and continue to be supportive of efforts to help our farmers and bird enthusiasts protect Wisconsin birds.



Reducing Incarceration, Saving Money Through Marijuana Decriminalization
Marijuana prohibition is a leading cause of mass incarceration in Wisconsin. Further, arrests and convictions for marijuana can result in lost jobs, suspended driver's licenses, and restrictions on access to federal student loans.

The number of people, especially African Americans, incarcerated in Wisconsin over nonviolent drug offenses is simply immoral and unjust. There is a 5-to-1 disparity of African Americans arrested for nonviolent crimes compared to their white counterparts. Our state is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on the prevention of victimless crimes, while our community is facing persistent problems of violent crime. Nonviolent felonies cost Wisconsin $30,000 per inmate per year. Wisconsin can be a leading state in reducing incarceration rates and being more mindful of our public dollars.

Recently, two separate pieces of legislation have been introduced to restructure the way Wisconsin would handle marijuana possession. One proposal, LRB 2298 would remove burdensome penalties from low level, nonviolent drug offenses while leaving open future doors of opportunity. LRB 2298 would eliminate the penalty for possession, manufacturing, and distribution of marijuana if the amount possessed, manufactured, or sold is no more than 25 grams. It also prohibits the establishment of probable cause for possessing more than 25 grams of marijuana based on odor alone. Finally, this bill changes how law enforcement determines the weight of marijuana. Traditionally, the weight includes total weight of marijuana plus the weight of any additional substance found with it. Under this bill, only the weight of marijuana may be considered.

A second proposal, LRB 0188, circulated by Rep. Sargent, would legalize and regulate the production, sale, and use of recreational and medical marijuana. This legislation would permit a Wisconsin resident over the age of 21 to possess no more than half an ounce of marijuana and eliminates the prohibition on possessing or using drug paraphernalia that relates to marijuana consumption. This bill would also create a process by which a person may obtain a permit to sell and grow recreational marijuana.

In addition, this bill would create a regulated medical marijuana market within the state of Wisconsin. The Department of Health Services (DHS) would create a process by which a patient may obtain a permit to purchase marijuana from a compassion center. These centers are nonprofit corporations licensed and regulated by the DHS to distribute, grow, and produce medicinal marijuana with the help of marijuana-focused research facilities. The facilities will test medical marijuana for contaminants, conduct critical analyses of the effects of marijuana use, and provide training for safe and efficient cultivation, harvesting, packaging, labeling, distribution, security, and safety.

Marijuana decriminalization or legalization efforts are gaining steam across the country. Colorado and Washington legalized recreational use, while Alaska and Oregon recently adopted similar measures. Right now, there is legislation in New York and Arizona to fully legalize, as well. New Mexico and Delaware are considering legislation to decriminalize low-level possessions. In addition to introducing LRB 2298 with Rep. Barnes, I am also a cosponsor of LRB 0188. I hope to see both of these proposals advance through the legislative process, as a responsible step forward in reevaluating our marijuana laws.

To view a copy of LRB 2298, click here.

To view a copy of LRB 0188, click here.


May is Building Safety Month

Building Safety Month, was founded by the International Code Council and is celebrated worldwide during the month of May.

Building Safety Month is a public awareness campaign to help individuals, families, and businesses understand what it takes to create safe and sustainable structures. Each year, this campaign stresses the importance of adopting adoption of modern, model building codes, a strong and efficient system of code enforcement, and a well-trained, professional workforce to maintain the system.

Below are 10 tips to help individuals save energy and money by practicing green and sustainable building techniques.

(Click to Enlarge)




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